Google Ranking System Goes Mobile First

Late last year Google made the announcement through its blog that the way pages are ranked will be changed significantly. This started with the “mobile-geddon” update in 2015, and ever since Google have been tweaking the search engine to reflect the reality that the majority of internet users now browse and search on a mobile device.

The blog post makes it clear that websites will now be ranked in search results according to how they appear on mobile. There are no public deadlines yet, however Google have confirmed that the new indexing is being tested and will be rolled out globally sometime in 2017.

So what should you do?

If you have been putting mobile usability on the long finger, now is the time to make your site as mobile-friendly as possible – otherwise you risk potentially seeing your search engine traffic shift dramatically when the change goes live.

An analysis of StudioForty9 clients over the last 6 months shows that on average 51% of traffic has been on a mobile device, with desktop traffic accounting for 35% and the other 14% browsing from a tablet. According to official statements from Google, mobile searches passed the 50% mark sometime last year.

So regardless of whether or not Google were making an update, figures like these should alert site owners that the mobile version of their site is already the primary one, serving more than half of total users.

Google Search Console

A few moments inside your Google Search Console account will point you in the right direction you need to make initial improvements.

Fetch and render – Have a look and see how your website looks on the mobile version – if it appears different to Googlebot than it does to your users, you may need to make some changes.

Smartphone errors – Check out the crawl errors section of the search console. The errors found here often differ from the desktop version – pay attention to this and make sure that your smartphone errors are fixed.

Page Speed Insights – have a look in this report. Page load speed is a ranking factor. If your site scores less than 60/100 then consider making improvements to your page speed. According to Google, 53% of users will abandon a page if it takes more than 3 seconds to load on mobile.

Also pay attention to the User Experience recommendations. They mightn’t have a direct impact on SEO but they will impact how users interact with your site.

Consider AMP – Accelerated Mobile pages are an initiative introduced by Google in collaboration with Twitter in 2015, an open-source response to Facebook instant articles and Apple news. AMP is basically a diluted form of HTML, so a lot of tags are removed. It also uses a streamlined version of CSS, and a basic javascript library.

The point of this is to make AMP pages load as quickly as possible. It’s designed so that Google can cache your pages easily, and can host your content without having to fetch it from you.


As with any major algorithm update, Google have given vague but sufficient notice of impending changes to the way your website will be ranked. Adhering to the guidelines in the Google Search Console will ensure that your site is initially prepared for the new ranking system.

Stay tuned, because the changes will be rolled out globally sometime this year, and before they do expect Google to release a updated set of guidelines for webmasters to comply with.

On a related topic, sites that display popups to mobile browsers will now be penalised, and the “mobile-friendly” label which used to appear in search results next to the site name has been removed, as over 85% of the web is now compliant.

Mobile-first is becoming the way of the web, see to it that your website doesn’t get left behind.

Kevin McCarthy
Kevin McCarthy |